Living with impermanence


One thing is certain, there is no certainty! So how come we struggle so much with managing both predictable and unpredictable change?

March is a sad month for me, it is the month in which my mother and brother died, and now it’s also the month that the beautiful Azure Window collapsed. This event captured the unpredictable and life as continual change.  The only certainty is one day we will die.

My beautiful mum and dad both dead now, and my children who are no longer young

In this blog I’m proposing the hypothesis that, in the West, despite enjoying a relatively stable period of time and also unprecedented affluence,  reduces our ability to deal with impermanence. I wonder if having more stability increases fear of change and instability. It feels like, maybe, we’ve losing an aspect of our adaptability and whilst unaware in an everyday way, the increase of anxiety within the community is fallout.

The inevitability of impermanence is hidden, rarely discussed and, I believe directly contributes to a generalised, illogical fear. Instead of talking and thinking about the inevitable we seem to try and control the impossible, like not ageing. Consequently it’s easy for us to miss enjoying the small moments in life because we focus on anything and everything else. Things like trying to prevent death – even in the very aged.

When something unpleasant and unpredictable happens we often look to blame. Whilst often this is an important process, it’s not helpful if it keeps people focused on what went wrong rather than ways to soothe their hurt.  Fear drives this, including the blaming of victims. If it’s someones fault then we must learn from the experience so we can prevent it re-occuring – often  this takes all of our energy, financial and emotional. With nothing left for comfort and kindness.

This idea that we can prevent something bad from happening is mythical. Yes obviously if  someone does something stupid, we’d all like to believe that there would be learning  – but sadly we often don’t learn,or if that one individual does there’ll be someone else about to do the exact same stupid thing. And of course, sometimes shit does happen – any one of us could be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time – which no amount of  careful anticipation and planning could prevent.

Denial of living in a world full of chance happenings and doggedly believing predictability and certainty are not only possible but right – feeds anxiety. This free floating  anxiety, that seems to be in plague proportions, is signalling a sense of not being emotionally resourced to manage if something goes wrong. Especially if it’s a major going wrong event.

I’m interested in the lack of conversations about living with impermanence and constant change as inevitable. Not only inevitable but a possibly escalating if some of the global warming commentators prove to be right. Our helpless fear would definitely be a cause for anxiety.

Cynically, I think focusing fear away from things we can’t change, like dying,  is good for the economy – you can trick  people and sell stuff. Like the belief that we should all have happy and fulfilled lives; we just have to get out there and do or buy stuff. Making ourselves central, not only to ourselves which is obviously important, but to everyone else helps us believe we have a guarantee of permanence  – take Facebook for example, this is what it’s sells, but it will only take a serious power failure to help us put in in it’s place as really not that important at all. Not that any of there’s anything wrong with things that promote permanence  in themselves – it the emotional motivation of the user that needs to be considered.

The clue to what this might be is the huge difference between I should or I would like. Each phrase delivers a different emotional response.

The should voice disconnects us from our intuition and what is or isn’t right in that moment – this I believe, becomes the potential soother for managing the inevitable impermanence of everyday day life. Being able to identify what you would like means you’ve taken a moment to consult yourself.

This is an important act and one we rarely give ourselves. In the West many of us have become spiritually  disconnected, our ability to deal with loss and change has become

rite of passage, marking the end of my 30+ years of marriage – simultaneous grief and joy

increasingly challenged. I’m not talking about religion here, but those small acts of taking a moment to enjoy a  beautiful sunset, or the taste of something delightful, or the feel of someone or something. And most importantly honouring grief and sadness when something precious is lost or has shifted – no matter how trivial the loss might be.

Taking a moment to honour  a broken favourite cup is important. In effect, the greater the loss the greater the time needed for honouring. But be aware, the keepers of certainty may want to steal appropriate sadness with the depression label, and a prescription of antidepressants. This, I believe, is because our low threshold for watching someone struggle with loss and the impermanence of life – unless, of course, it comes with a happy ending!


the simple act of lighting a candle is so soothing